Simple Tomato Sauce ~ Sugo di Pomodoro Semplice

This simple tomato sauce recipe is indeed that. Simple. Nothing but tomatoes, garlic, salt, and basil. Summer, here we come.

An illustration for tomato sauce

When plum tomatoes are no longer available at the farmers’ market, I turn to this simple tomato sauce recipe (sugo di pomodoro semplice). Using superior-quality canned tomatoes and good olive oil makes all the difference. I use diced imported Italian tomatoes packed in their natural juices, which yield a fresher-tasting sauce than one made from tomatoes in heavy purée, which gives the sauce the flavor of tomato paste.–Domenica Marchetti

LC Summer in a Can Note

We trust Domenica on the canned tomato situation, so pay attention to what she has to say above. While we’re on the topic of canned tomatoes, care to share your take on the hoopla over San Marzano tomatoes? Personally, we’d buy them just for the lovely cans they come in…

Smooth Tomato Sauce Variation: For some recipes, such as Giant Ravioli, I like to use a smooth, rather than chunky, sauce. The sauce performs as a cloak, without any textural distraction. The flavor, too, is different. When the tomatoes are pureed, the sauce is a bit mellower. To make smooth tomato sauce, pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the disk with the smallest holes before you add them to the pan, then proceed as directed. [Editor’s Note: Those lacking a food mill may be interested to learn we had luck puréeing the tomatoes in a food processor.]

☞ Contents

Simple Tomato Sauce

An illustration for tomato sauce
A simple tomato sauce is handy because of its ease and its ability to work with all sorts of pasta. Use the best canned tomatoes that you can, it will make all the difference here.

Prep 10 minutes
Cook 35 minutes
Total 45 minutes
8 servings (makes about 4 cups)
61 kcal
4.60 / 5 votes
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  • 2 cloves garlic lightly crushed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Two cans diced tomatoes, preferably San Marzano undrained
  • Kosher or fine sea salt
  • 5 large basil leaves shredded or torn


  • To make the simple tomato sauce, warm the garlic and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, press down on the garlic to release its flavor. Tilt the pan to swirl the garlic in the oil, infusing it with flavor. Cook just until the garlic begins to sizzle and release its fragrance but before it starts to brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Carefully pour the tomatoes into the pan (being careful to step back, as the oil will spatter) and stir to coat with the oil. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.
  • When the juices begin to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the sauce has thickened and the oil has separated from the tomatoes, 30 to 35 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, if you like. (The sauce, sans basil, may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.)
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 61kcal (3%)Carbohydrates: 0.3gProtein: 0.1gFat: 7g (11%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gSodium: 0.3mgPotassium: 4mgFiber: 0.02gSugar: 0.01gVitamin A: 13IUVitamin C: 0.3mgCalcium: 2mgIron: 0.1mg (1%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This sauce was very easy to throw together. If I make this again, I would double up on the garlic and the basil leaves. At the end of the recipe, the author recommends putting the sauce through a food mill when you are serving it over the ravioloni. After the sauce was done, I put half of it into another pot, and used an emersion blender to make it smooth. I served the smooth sauce over one half of the ravioloni, and the chunky sauce over the other half. We preferred the chunky sauce to the smooth.

There is no need to purchase pasta sauce when you can make a superior product yourself in little more than the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta! This recipe is so simple and extremely fresh tasting. I could see embellishing on this basic recipe by adding chile flakes, onion, or more garlic! Easy to make a big batch and freeze in containers for fresh pasta sauce anytime! The basil really makes a big difference, and please use an excellent quality canned tomato—it’s worth it!

I adore this sauce. It’s so becoming in its simplicity and so classic Italian in that it calls for but a few HIGH quality ingredients. I used San Marzano tomatoes, pureed in the food processor, and best quality EVOO. I followed the recipe exactly except I added a small handful freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the sauce with the basil. I served this with spaghetti squash and grilled sweet and hot Italian sausages. It was a huge hit!

While there are several more complex and flavorful tomato sauce recipes out there, this simple classic fits the bill for when you’re short on time. I agree that, as with any recipe calling for only a few ingredients, quality is key. This recipe packs a surprising amount of flavor considering how few ingredients it uses. I’ll be keeping this one on hand!

Originally published July 05, 2011


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  1. For an extra smooth sauce, start with whole tomatoes. Over a strainer, slice tomatoes in half. Squeeze lightly to drain liquids, including seeds through the strainer. Add tomotoes to food precessor or blender and puree. Press the liquids through the strainer and discard the seeds. Add to pureed tomatoes. While it is more work, the results are very notable. Without the seeds, the sauce has unmistakable smoothness, both texture and taste.

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